In Wake Of Two Triathletes' Deaths, NYC Event May See Changes

Aug 9, 2011
Originally published on August 9, 2011 2:29 pm

The New York City Triathlon is considering changes to its screening process after two competitors died during Sunday's race — an unprecedented tragedy. Both Michael Kudryk, 64, and Amy Martich, 40, died during the swim portion of the event.

Out of the more than 3,000 athletes competing in the triathlon, more than two dozen required help during the swim portion, which is nearly a mile in length. Competitors also bike for 25 miles and run for 6. The last person to die during the NYC Triathlon did so in 2008. That athlete, age 32, also died during the swim portion of the event.

Kudryk suffered an apparent heart attack during the swim; Martich was reportedly spotted floating face down in the water about mid-way through the course. Both were immediately treated and then taken to Roosevelt Hospital, but neither survived. The swim portion is monitored by race personnel in kayaks, boats and on jetskis, as well as 32 lifeguards.

In a statement, triathlon director Bill Burke said, "On behalf of all of us in the triathlon community, our thoughts and prayers are with the athletes and their loved ones."

Race officials say they don't believe that the two deaths had anything to do with weather or water conditions. At the triathlon's start in the early morning, both air and water temperatures were in the high 70s. And the swim portion, held in the Hudson River, is timed so that racers swim with the current, not against it.

The two deaths Sunday have put new emphasis on a study of triathlon deaths, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010.

The study looked at 14 deaths, occurring at events between 2006-2008. In every case but one, the swim portion of the race was where the athletes either died or suffered extreme duress. The athletes' ages ranged from 28-65. And the majority of those who underwent autopsies were found to have pre-existing heart abnormalities, which may have became exacerbated during the intense swimming portion.

One of the athletes who successfully completed Sunday's triathlon was Fox Business reporter Liz Claman, who participated despite having scoliosis. And as Claman tells Huffington Post, she's had bouts of panic each time she started the swimming portion of the event:

"The first year, I got in the water and suddenly felt like my wetsuit had shrunk 3 sizes. I was gulping for air thinking, 'Did I gain 18 pounds between yesterday and today?'

Suddenly I realized, 'This is what I read about.' Panic attacks are really common. I resorted to my easier safety stroke, looked around and thought, 'I'm in the Hudson swimming. This isn't scary. It's interesting.'"

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